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May 30, 2014 at 11:11 PM

Tigers 6, Mariners 3 — Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are good

BOX SCORE 05.30.14 Box Score

Lloyd McClendon is now on the other side. After years of watching opposing managers gnash their teeth and build their ulcers at the thought of dealing with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, he now has to do it himself. And it isn’t fun. .

They were the story on Friday night.  Cabrera blasted a mammoth two-run homer in the third inning and Martinez lined a three-run homer over the wall in right field in the fifth inning, leading the Tigers to a 6-3 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.

Cabrera and Martinez found their old hitting coach before the game and engulfed him in a dual bear hug behind the batting cages.

The reunion was fun. The game wasn’t.

“Not under the circumstances tonight, no,” he said. “I’m glad this day is over and we can get back to normalcy. Hopefully, we can get back to winning games.”

Still, McClendon’s fondness and respect for both hitters has been evident since the Mariners hired him. He’s used both players as models for their approach, effort and diligence in preparing for games.

They offered a first-hand example on Friday. Both players singled off of Mariners’ starter to Hisashi Iwakuma in the first inning.

But those were just warm-up hits.

In the third inning, Iwakuma gave up a two-out single to Torii Hunter to bring Cabrera, the reigning two-time American League MVP to the plate. Iwakuma tried to sneak an elevated fastball on the inside part of the plate past Cabrera. It didn’t happen. Cabrera was ready for it and crushed a towering fly ball into the Mariners’ bullpen for his ninth homer of the season. The distance was estimated at just less than 400 feet.

“I wanted to go up and in tight,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “That’s where I wanted that pitch. I’ve pitched to him many times in the past and I’ve located that pitch there and was able to get outs. But today, he got to that pitch. You look at him. He’s a monster.”

Catcher Mike Zunino said they went back and checked on the pitch on replay see if it was bad.

“It was almost on the white line of the batter’s box,” Zunino said. “But he’s such a strong guy and has such a good swing that he’s able to stay inside baseballs that most other people can’t. The only place we could have maybe put it better was a little higher up so he couldn’t drop the barrel on it.

The Mariners were able to answer against  Justin Verlander in the fourth inning. Justin Smoak drew a two-out walk and Kyle Seager followed with a homer of his own, launching a 95 mph fastball from Verlander deep into the right field seats to tie the game at 2-2. It was his team-leading eighth homer of the season.

The game didn’t stay tied for long.

Iwakuma found more trouble in the fifth inning. With two outs and Ian Kinsler on second base, McClendon opted to intentionally walk Cabrera and face Martinez. The American League’s leading hitter made that decision hurt. Martinez, who came into the game hitting .344, battled Iwakuma, fouling off five straight pitches on a 2-2 count. And on the 10th pitch, Iwakuma made the mistake of hanging a slider that Martinez didn’t miss, driving a low liner over the wall in right field. It was his team-high 13th homer of the season.

“I was trying to win the game,” McClendon said of his decision. “It didn’t work. We didn’t execute.”

Martinez had plenty to do with that.

“We knew that technically we still had a base open,” Zunino said. “We wanted to be as perfect as we could working that (outside) corner. We did a good job until that last pitch. He put a great at-bat together. We wanted to go backdoor slider and it just caught a little too much plate and was a little up. It’s just the season he’s having. He’s so locked in.”

Martinez now has hit 13 homers and struck out 13 times this season.

“I’ve never seen a player who has the concentration every single pitch that Victor has a nightly basis,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “The only time I see his concentration go up even higher is when he sees someone get walked in front of him.”

Martinez was quite candid about having someone in front of intentionally walked and his mindset.

“I always concentrate, no matter what,” he said. “Early in my career, I used to get mad, to get pissed off, when they were walking people in front of me. I’d get mad at the plate and be swinging at anything. Now I understand. Hey, if I’m a manager, I’d do the same thing. It is what it is. Miggy’s the best hitter in the game, and you can’t let the best hitter in the game beat you. I understand it.”

The five runs from the two homers was more than enough for Verlander, particularly facing a Mariners’ lineup without Robinson Cano.

Verlander, who’s had his struggles at Safeco in the past, worked 7 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits with a walk and seven strikeouts to improve to 6-4 on the season. He was lifted after allowing a single to James Jones with two outs in the eighth. Reliever Ian Krol then served up an RBI double to Michael Saunders to make it 6-3.

“He threw the ball fairly decent,” McClendon said of Verlander. “I’ve seen him better, obviously. But that was vintage Justin. He was on his game and his breaking stuff was good.”

Iwakuma (3-2) was saddled with his second straight loss, pitching six innings, giving up the five runs on eight hits with two walks (one intentional) and five strikeouts.

“I didn’t see the finish to his pitches that he usually has,” McClendon said. “He’s probably got a little bit of tired arm, not having a spring training and going as deep in ball games as he’s gone. It’s probably something that’s normal and something to be expected.”


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